Trump Administration Calls Off December's MLB-Cuba Deal
The Trump administration "declared illegal a December deal" between MLB and the Cuban Baseball Federation that "would have allowed Cuban athletes to play in this country without having to defect," according to Karen DeYoung of the WASHINGTON POST. Yesterday's decision comes "just days after the federation released the names of 34 Cuban players it said were eligible to sign" with U.S. teams. Some of the players were "expected to be signed and playing this year." The original agreement was "intended to prevent players from undertaking risky escapes from Cuba, often with paid smugglers, and having to give up their citizenship to play in the United States." Under the terms of the deal, similar to deals with foreign players from Japan and other countries, MLB clubs would "pay a fee" to the CBF. A senior administration official said that the payments were "illegal under U.S. sanctions because the federation is part of the Cuban government." This measure was the "latest of several crackdowns that are part of President Trump's efforts to roll back" President Obama's opening to Cuba (WASHINGTON POST, 4/9).
BIGGER THAN BASEBALL: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Diamond & Salama note MLB has "long argued that creating a safe, legal path for Cuban players to sign with U.S. teams was a human rights issue." In the past, players "described harrowing ordeals in their efforts to escape Cuba, often with the assistance of human traffickers, and receiving death threats from smugglers seeking payment long after they arrive." An MLB spokesperson said, "We stand by the goal of the agreement, which is to end the human trafficking of baseball players from Cuba" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/9).
DEFENSIVE SHIFT: One MLB official said that the league had "requested a face-to-face meeting with U.S. government agencies" but was not granted one. In N.Y., Waldstein & Tackett note MLB was "prepared to base its argument on the fact that the Obama administration had given it a license" in '16 to do business with the CBF, and that a Trump-era national security presidential memorandum issued last June "promised the agreement would be grandfathered in." U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton "seemed to foreshadow the move on Sunday." Bolton tweeted, "Cuba wants to use baseball players as economic pawns -- selling their rights to Major League Baseball. America's national pastime should not enable the Cuban regime's support for Maduro in Venezuela" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/9). USA TODAY's Yomtov & Fritze note under the original agreement, players would receive 100% of a "signing bonus, but the signing team would pay a posting fee to the Cuban federation." Critics of the agreement, including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), "feel that the posting fee going to the federation amounts to paying the Cuban government ransom for baseball players" (USA TODAY, 4/9).